Sausage-loving Goa wakes up to pigling torture

As they jump into the wells, the revellers shout cries of "Viva Sao Joao". Traditional celebrations aren't complete without feni, other liquors, fresh fruit and savouries.

In a land synonymous with sorportel and vindaloo (spicy pork gravies) and sausages, a video of a live pigling stretched over a pole slung over the shoulders of merry-making men, participating in a traditional Catholic festival, has divided opinions among Goa's faithful and animal lovers. 

The controversial video, shot at a Sao Joao festival, a remnant of colonial Indo-Portuguese and Catholic tradition, at Betabatim, a beach-village in South Goa on June 24, has also accentuated the existing divide between native Goans and non-Goan "new settlers" here. 

The video, which went viral several days later, has also attracted criticism from Goa-based animal rights organisation People For Animals. 

"Such acts of cruelty on animals in public places and at celebrations are clear violations of the laws of this country and the directions of the Supreme Court. Several animal welfare organisations have complained to the authorities to take action against the people involved in this incident," the organisation's president Norma Alvares has said. 

Catholic Saint John the Baptist's feast is held six months before Christmas and has its roots in a Biblical tale. Mary, Jesus Chirst's mother, was told through an angelic apparition that she would conceive Jesus, when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth, who at the time was carrying John (St. John the Baptist) in her womb. 

John, according to the Bible, leapt in joy within the womb on hearing the divine news.

As a symbolic gesture, revellers wearing a traditional kopel (a flowery wreath) drenched to the bone in the rain, jump into rain-swollen wells to celebrate the festival across Goa, especially in villages with sizeable number of Catholics reside. Catholics account for nearly 26% of the state's population. 

As they jump into the wells, the revellers shout cries of "Viva Sao Joao". Traditional celebrations aren't complete without feni, other liquors, fresh fruit and savouries. 

Lately, political patronage has enabled Sao Joao celebrations in artificially dug, water-logged pits or swimming pools, with elaborate performances on a stage erected nearby. Just like the one in Betalbatim. 

The alcohol was flowing, music blaring, men, women and children soaking in the rains and celebration, when a village troupe, one of the many participating in a contest, strode in with the pigling tied to a pole, to claps and adulation from the audience. 

While pigling hung hogtied, an entire song and dance sequence played out on stage. The baby pig was later slaughtered outside the venue, barbecued and served to the audience. 

One of the organisers, Menin Cota, a former Indian Air Force serviceman, concedes to the animal cruelty charge. The troupe, he says, had erred in bringing a tied-up piglet onstage, but also criticised animal rights lovers for completely disregarding an age-old tradition. 

"I accept it (the accusation) in terms of animal cruelty... as organisers, we did not like what happened," he told DH. He also said that despite being the "best performers", the troupe which carried the pigling was not given first place by the organisers of the Sao Joao event, for the animal cruelty on display.  

But he also has a bone to pick with several commentators on social media, who he claims are new settlers in Goa, unfamiliar about the indigenous traditions. 

"People who are raising the issue, know zero about the tradition of Goa. They are new settlers who do not know about traditions we have followed over generations," he said. Cota's argument about "new settlers" is not a new one to Goa, India's smallest state, where the debate over rampant immigration is unceasing and shrill.  

According to author and columnist Pantaleao Fernandes, who has documented Catholic and Hindu festivals for over a decade, he has not witnessed live piglings being hauled to Sao Joao, although a roast pigling is still the pièce de résistance in major Catholic celebrations. 

There was once a barbaric custom Sao Joao custom involving piglings, he says, but its not been witnessed in recent times. 

"Revellers would bite into a live pigling and the one who could extract a piece of skin would dubbed as virile by the villagers. Fortunately, it is not seen anymore," he said. 

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